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Strength Training For Softball

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Strength Training for Softball

For anyone who has watched college softball recently, they’ve seen a sport progressing at a rapid pace. Oklahoma just won the national title with its pitcher consistently hitting 75 mph on her pitches. This speed is amazing compared to what used to be seen, even just a short time ago. We are getting smarter and realizing that softball is primarily a power sport. When we say that we mean short burst of energy, and as much power as quickly as possible.

In previous years, these girls have been sheltered out of the weight room for the fear of getting too bulky. Now, there are teams using strength training to their advantage and they are the ones pulling away from their competition.  With younger athletes at Showtime Strength and Performance, we have seen an increase in the number of games each year, but a decrease in strength and athletic ability. Most of the softball players we have worked with came to us due to injury because of an overuse injury. These are the steps and plans we have used to develop high-level softball athletes, training girls as young as 10 through some of the top college players in the country. In the last five years, we have worked with two teams that won the high school softball state title in three of those five seasons.

Needs Analysis: We first need an understanding of what the athlete needs and the demands of the sport. This will look at their injury history and any movement dysfunction the athlete has. In understanding movement dysfunction, we need to be aware that for most athletes some of their dysfunction might help make them great at their position in their sport. An example of this would be softball pitchers. Pitchers practice everyday and most of them will also hit. There is a lot of torque in these movements and a lot of rotational power from the hips. This will create imbalance, but if you try to rid the athlete of their imbalance you could potentially take away their ability to perform at a high level. What we need to decide is what is dangerous to their health and what is needed for their performance. That is the job of a sports performance coach. In some cases, I will have my wife, Claire Kopko, help me decide a plan of attack. She is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a former college softball player, so her background in softball and PT helps me get a firm grasp on any potential issues. As a sports performance coach, don’t be afraid to ask for help on things outside your expertise. It will help your athletes in the long run.

The needs for softball are not always in line with what sport coaches have had their teams do for years. If you look at how the game is played, we see that it b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_5628.JPGis a very fast game and requires athletes to be very explosive and powerful. These short burst are not built from running for miles, even though I, along with other coaches, have been guilty of this. If we need athletes to be explosive and powerful then we need to train in that manner, not in a way where we build endurance at a low level of output. We work concurrently to improve strength, speed and work capacity. When they come to us, many of the girls can perform at a low intensity for a long time, but can’t produce any power quickly. They need to learn how to perform maximum effort on everything we do, with the goal being to produce maximum velocity. Just as in strength sports, we have used our speed days (dynamic effort) to push our heavy days (max effort), and by doing so we have raised our level of absolute strength. What does this mean? It means we can produce more force with each swing of the bat, it means we can get a quicker first step towards first base, and it means that we can get into better position to properly field tough ground balls.

How: We have taken the Westside principles and used them to train athletes in softball. Does that make them powerlifters? No, not at all. What we found, though, is both sports need very powerful athletes who are able to repeat at the same high-level output several times. We also found the sooner we could add accommodating resistance for the athletes, the sooner we got a bigger carryover to their sport. Most coaches believe accommodating resistance has no place with less trained athletes, but what we have found through a lot of trial and error is accommodating resistance will help young lifters lift with better technique.

This is for three reasons:

1: The weight reloads at the bottom, which is where most young athletes feel very uncomfortable. Therefore it builds confidence throughout the whole movement, where as with straight weight they have the same weight in a non-confident position.

2: It forces the athlete to keep muscles flexed. It is impossible to unrack a squat bar with bands without keeping all muscles tight.

3: It teaches them to accelerate through the entire motion instead of just the bottom part to reverse the movement.

The accommodating resistance doesn't have to be near what top level lifters use for squat, bench and deadlift. So what the coach needs to figure out is how much accommodating resistance to use based on the level of preparedness of the athlete.

Here is how we set up our accommodating resistance for each lift based on the level of athletes we have seen.

Squat Max Band Used Squat Max Chain Used
100 lbs and Under Mini Band 100 lbs and Under 40 lbs
101-200 lbs Light Band 101-200 lbs 80 lbs
201-300 lbs Average Band 201-300 lbs 120 lbs

 

Bench Max Band Used Bench Max Chain Used
100 lbs and Under Micro Band 100 lbs and Under 20 lbs
101-200 lbs Mini Band 101-200 lbs 30-40 lbs

 

Deadlift Max Band Used Deadlift Max Chain Used
100 lbs and Under Micro Draped 100 lbs and Under 20 lbs
101-200 lbs Micro Doubled 101-200 lbs 40 lbs
201-300 lbs Mini Band Draped 201-300 lbs 80 lbs
301 lbs and Over Mini Band Doubled 301 lbs and Over 100 lbs

 

This can change some depending if you're focusing on speed strength or strength speed at that time, but these are base guidelines we use to gauge our athletes in training. Keep in mind some of these athletes are high school age with zero training history, while some are Division I collegiate softball players with no training history.

Next, we will look at the training for an off-season softball player. This will be the exact same template we have used for three years with great success. The template has evolved from where it began through trial and error with our athletes. This last summer was our best for testing results and how athletes felt physically and mentally.

For anyone training collegiate athletes in the private sector, do yourself a huge favor and reach out to your athlete’s college strength coach. Some will ignore you and not like you, but most of them will gladly talk with you and be happy that their athletes will have guidance over the summer months when they aren't at the school.

Here is the exact training split we utilized throughout the summer:

Monday: Max Effort Lower

Tuesday: Dynamic Effort Upper

Thursday: Dynamic Effort Lower

Friday: Max Effort Upper

This was the most optimal way to design our summer training plan with our athlete’s travel ball schedule and life schedule. This kept our athletes from overtraining with playing up to 10 softball games every weekend. Because the Friday workout was max effort, accessories were reduced to help make sure they weren't sore for their tournaments. If an athlete’s schedule allowed, they could come in on Wednesday and do active recovery, starts for sprints, or any rehab for injuries. All lower body main lifts were paired with jumps, and upper body lifts were paired with med ball throws. We would split athletes into groups of 4-5 based on their strength and experience level.

Here is our entire summer Dynamic Effort Lower body training cycle with the jumps that went with them

Week 1- Pre Test

Week 2- Box Squat with 40lbs of Chains: 8 sets of 3 reps x 50%

  Kneeling Jump: 8 sets of 3 reps

Week 3- Box Squat with 80lbs of Chains: 8 sets of 3 reps x 55%

   Box Jump: 8 sets of 3 reps

Week 4- Box Squat with 120lbs of Chains: 8 sets of 3 reps x 60%

              Seated Box Jump: 8 sets of 3 reps

Week 5- Squat with Monster Band: 8 sets of 3 reps x 50%

              Kneeling Dumbbell Jump: 8 sets of 3 reps

Week 6- Squat with Light Band: 8 sets of 3 reps x55%

               Box Jump: 8 sets of 3 reps

Week 7- Squat with Average Band: 8 sets of 3 reps x 60%

               Seated Box Jump: 8 sets of 3 reps

Week 8- Safety Bar Box Squat with Light Bands+40lbs of Chains: 8 sets of 3 reps x 50%

               Reset Long Jump: 8 sets of 3 reps

Week 9- Safety Bar Box Squat with Light Bands+60lbs of Chains: 8 sets of 3 reps x 55%

               Repeated Long Jump: 8 sets of 2 reps

Week 10- Safety Bar Box Squat with Light Bands+80lbs of Chains: 6 sets of 3 reps x 60%

    Box Jump: 6 sets 4 jumps

Week 11- Box Squat: 8x2 up to 70%

    Seated Box Jumps: 8x3

Week 12- Squat Test

This resulted in the best testing results we have ever had over any 12 week span to date.

**For those athletes who needed more strength, we kept them at a higher percentage to build absolute strength. We had other athletes that were very b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_6914.PNGstrong, but slow, so they used a lighter percentage for bar weight and worked on increasing bar speed. 

On lower body main emphasis days, we would base the conditioning around the lower body. Here are a few examples of conditioning we did on those days:

Belt Squat March or Belt Squat Zercher Harness: 5x1 Minute or 5x100 steps 

Forward or Backward Sled Drag: 5-10 Minutes or 5-10 trips 30-60 yards

Prowler- 4-8 trips 10-20 yards

Farmers Walk 4-8 trips 20-30 yards

Accommodating Resistance- Adding accommodating resistance CORRECTLY was probably the best addition to our athletes training since we have opened.

The reason being, when we began to use bands and chains they couldn't slow down when lifting like they can with straight weight. This is beneficial for softball because as you make contact on your swing, you cant quit swinging as the ball makes contact. You have to hit thru the ball. The same thing goes for with pitchers. Pitchers have to finish with their bodies even after the ball is released. If the pitcher doesn't finish through on the pitch then it won’t reach maximum velocity. Because of accommodating resistance they become more explosive as they're finishing their pitches. Base your accommodation resistance on how fast you want you want the bar speed to move.

These workouts helped our athletes become faster in their lifts and then created more competition during the training sessions. They then pushed each other to move the weight faster and also eliminate any down time between sets. All of our workouts were done in sixty to seventy five minutes. We had 5 softball players add 40lbs to their squat and two added over 50lbs. Every single athlete had achieved significant increase in 20-yard sprint (home to first), 5/10/5, 40-yard shuttle, vertical jump and long jump.

This is just a look at our dynamic effort training over the summer and how we tied it in together. We used this with over 40 female athletes over three years.

One Division I college player became the most improved from postseason testing the previous year (Spring) to the pre-testing the following year( Fall). Many coaches will use some form of conditioning test for athletes when they arrive, ranging from 10-20 100-yard sprints. We didn't train for this over the summer with the athletes, but all of our athletes were able to pass with ease. Three of them are now the fastest on their Division I college team.

We also didn't use this because we want our athletes to feel recovered for training sessions. Many of them were playing 8-12 games on the weekends so we didn't have time to perform and recover from distance running. It also didn't fit into our training plan for softball players because softball is an anaerobic sport where athletes will get near full recovery between plays. Running repeated 100-yard sprints has very little, if any correlation, to on field performance. We want our softball players to be explosive and to be able to change direction quickly.

Using the Westside principles for our softball players was one of the biggest difference makers in our training. The accommodating resistance taught them to be fast because they had to accelerate throughout the entire range of motion. The rotating bars and accommodating resistance prevented them from becoming stale with their workouts. The weak area training we made available to each athlete and they personally picked and helped attack different areas all summer.

We were hitting PRs every week, whether it was lifting, jumping, or sprinting, which then made it easier for athletes to see how the training was benefiting them.

Female athletes have an even higher need to be stronger, not only to increase performance, but to also decrease the chance of injury. Females are more inclined to get lower body non-contact injuries because of their hip angle. Get strong and leave their weaknesses behind.

For any questions on using a the Westside method with softball players, just email nick@showtimestrength.com

Nick Showman

Showtime Strength & Performance

www.showtimestrength.com 

 

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Guest Tuesday, 12 December 2017